This morning I watched a video where the presenter was asking “Why do you run agility?” Which similar to he, I’ve asked myself any number of times over the years, often, as for him, when standing in the pouring rain, mud up past my boots, drenched in the middle of a large field in the middle of no where with a bunch of people and dogs. Or at 4am as we’re getting out the door to drive for hours to arrive in time for first dog on the line at 8am. Or as I’m nursing a massive light induced migraine after a day of trialing. Or when I’m in physical pain for days after on the couch. Why again am I doing this?
For me, why do I run dog agility, the answer is multiple parts and has changed some over the years.
Way back when I was 12 and began learning dog agility, the answer was it looked really cool. And the people in the agility club I found were really nice. I also wanted to be competitive, but in the sense that I was seeking outside validation and reinforcement from others.
As I aged I found I really, really enjoy training my dogs even more than being competitive. I tried a lot of dog sports beyond agility: obedience, confirmation, hunting, tracking, rally, carting to name a few. But time and time again agility was my favorite. I loved that I was competing against no one but myself, my training skill and the challenges of the course. That in order to ‘win’ I didn’t have to beat anyone. I didn’t even have to qualify. I could set in my own mind what a ‘win’ was. I loved that agility was fast, the balance of speed and control. I loved that my dog was completely off leash, that in order to be successful we had to first and foremost have a relationship where he wanted to stay with me. I loved the reinforcement that training and relationship building gave me when I saw time and time again my dog happy and excited to do things with me. I loved that dog agility was one of the few places then where positive training was not only encouraged, punitive training was frowned upon, at least in the group I was with. I loved being part of a group that didn’t think we had to force or hurt our dogs to get them to win. I loved when I saw time and time again my dog choosing to do what I asked. Choosing me.
Agility was also a community for me. I liked knowing so many people across the country. I liked the roles I played behind the scenes in trial organization and planning. I liked that I knew how to solve people’s problems come trial day. I liked that others trusted me as a young teenager to be the trial chairperson. I liked feeling valued with that level of control and oversight. And I did a damn good job at it. I liked designing beginner class curriculum. I liked designing, building and fixing agility equipment. I loved judging. I liked that the agility community accepted me as who I was, not only accepted but fostered and encouraged. I wasn’t the weird kid who did dog stuff to them. I was a fellow agility enthusiast.
Now a days, I do dog agility because I want to. Because I can. Because my health once again allows. Because we can afford it. Because my husband supports my love for agility. Because he’s willing to get up at 4am on a weekend when he’d much rather sleep till noon, because he’s willing to help me at the shows. Because I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today I can. Because for 5 years I couldn’t and literally grieved the loss. I missed the community, I missed the courses, I missed the challenging the skills my dog and I had practiced. I’ve learned for me teaching agility isn’t enough. I’ve learned training alone isn’t enough. I enjoy the trialing, I enjoy the venue to put my skills to the test. I enjoy having the entire day with no distractions other than dog agility. I enjoy my dog choosing me. I enjoy going home after a trial enthused to get back to training because of the challenges the weekend’s courses presented. I enjoy the holes in my training that trialing shows me. I enjoy the challenge of thinking outside the box, of developing and changing my training plans to increase speed, accuracy, efficiency, distance. I enjoy working with fellow competitors in various volunteer jobs. I enjoy sitting in the x-pen snuggling with my dogs between runs. I enjoy chatting with fellow enthusiasts about their runs. I enjoy being normal for a day, I’m just another competitor to them. I enjoy working toward the additional goals of our NATCH and Triple Triple. I enjoy Zora’s happy excitement when I ask her if she’s ready to play agility. I enjoy the smile on my face every single time we walk to the line and every single time we exit the course together. I enjoy being a team with Zora, I enjoy sharing the experience with my husband.
I run dog agility because 3 days after a trial when I’m curled on the couch in pain, I still smile when I think of the fun we had. That dog agility is worth the pain. Lots of things in life cause me pain, turning a door knob, brushing my teeth, walking up stairs, dog agility is one of the few that the joy of the experience causes it to be worth it.
I run dog agility because it makes me smile.